Mark Simpson: orchestral premieres in Cologne and Berlin
German premieres of two orchestral works by Mark Simpson are on the programmes of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under Cristian Macelaru and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Cornelius Meister at the end of April.
Nicola Benedetti, the dedicatee of Mark Simpson's Violin Concerto premiered in 2021, is soloist for the work’s German premiere in the Cologne Philharmonie on 28 April. The performance by the WDR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Cristian Macelaru is part of Cologne’s annual EIGHT BRIDGES festival and will be broadcast live on WDR 3.
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Simpson has prefixed his score as a motto with a quote from a compatriot, the British poet Robert Browning (1812-1889): “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” As the composer himself describes, he began his Violin Concerto "just before the UK’s first COVID lockdown in March 2020 and my initial musical ideas were hopeful, singing, full of life. As the pandemic worsened I quickly realised that it was impossible to ‘carry on as normal’ and the work would need to explore a different set of responses." Divided into five movements, including a cadenza, the almost 40-minute work is characterised by strong emotional contrasts. Cantabile, mournful passages alternate with those in which energy, pent up to bursting point, is discharged.
Mark Simpson wrote his Violin Concerto on a joint commission from the London Symphony Orchestra (with support from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation), the WDR Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; performances have previously taken place in London, Cincinnati and Amsterdam. In the Cologne concert, the WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne under Cristian Macelaru, together with the WDR Rundfunkchor, will also perform works by György Ligeti and Claude Vivier.
The following day on 29 April at the Berlin Philharmonie, Simpson's orchestral work Israfel, a 12-minute 'concert opener', will be heard, followed by a performance of Anton Bruckner's 5th Symphony. Both works in this programme illustrate "the mind-expanding power of music, which is a thematic focus of this DSO season", according to the organiser.
Israfel refers to Edgar Allan Poe's poem of the same name about the archangel who, according to the Koran, possesses the sweetest voice of all God's creatures. Simpson wanted to write, in his own words, "a piece that sang, floated, morphed, moved, moved us, lifted us, had power, had fragility, had hope, uncertainty, beauty - something otherworldly, something transcendental - something to shake us. Poe's poem perfectly evokes the myriad emotions I wanted to take the listener through." Israfel was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and was premiered in Glasgow in April 2015 under the baton of Andrew Litton.
The DSO concert is conducted by Cornelius Meister (replacing an indisposed Robin Ticciati) and the repeat performance on 30 April will be broadcast live on Deutschlandfunk Kultur. The composer will be present in Cologne and Berlin for his two German premieres.
> Further information on Work: Violin Concerto
Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke